BY DAVE McKINNEY AND STEVE CONTORNO
Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporters
Gov. Quinn said Thursday he would rather face defeat in his bitter gubernatorial primary against Comptroller Dan Hynes than encourage racial fissures the governor accused Hynes of fomenting with his Harold Washington attack ad.
“I’d rather lose the race for governor than divide the people of Illinois along the lines of race. That’s what my opponent is doing. He knows it,” said Quinn, who seemed energized despite his ominous drop in polls, which has left Tuesday’s election a dead heat.
The governor’s statement occurred during the two Democrats’ last scheduled joint appearance of the campaign, on WVON-AM, where the most volatile moments focused on the Hynes’ ad in which the late mayor trashes Quinn from the grave as an incompetent, publicity hound who deserved to be fired from his city revenue post in Washington’s administration 23 years ago.
Hynes defended the ad as a prescient foreshadowing of what he characterized as Quinn’s ineffectiveness as governor since taking over a year ago from his impeached predecessor, Rod Blagojevich.
“We’re not trying to be divisive,” Hynes said. “We have presented these words of Harold Washington, which are directly relevant to the fact the governor today has allowed our problems to get worse.”
Hynes stared down a political buzzsaw by agreeing to appear on “The Cliff Kelley Show” as Quinn and the former alderman-turned-talk-show-host took turns pummeling the three-term comptroller. Kelley, part of Washington’s City Council coalition, interrupted Hynes repeatedly in springing to Quinn’s defense.
The comptroller wanted to appear with Quinn on the station, which has a significant following among black voters, with some other host than Kelley, but WVON rejected that bid, representatives from both campaigns said.
Hynes relented instead of boycotting Kelley’s 38th-ranked afternoon drive-time show, which an industry source estimated has about 10,000 listeners. Not appearing could have been portrayed as a snub to an audience of voters Hynes covets on Tuesday.
Unabashed in his backing for Quinn, Kelley asked Hynes whether the Washington ad was part of a strategy to lure some of the same “racist” voters who sided with Washington’s opponents in the 1987 mayoral campaign, including Hynes’ father, Thomas, who broke from the Democratic Party to launch an unsuccessful third-party campaign to topple Washington.
“Dan, people have a problem because your dad was certainly not supportive of Mayor Washington, and you ran against Barack. And what I’m saying, was the intent to try to divide the black community or to draw votes from people who are racist who didn’t want Washington in office in the first place?” Kelley asked.
“No,” Hynes answered, “the intent was to explain to people the governor’s inability to solve problems, his lack of competence…”
“But that was years ago,” Kelley interrupted.
“That’s the reason he was fired by Mayor Washington in the Department of Revenue,” Hynes continued.
“Twenty years ago,” Kelley shot back before later praising Quinn’s performance as treasurer and lieutenant governor.
After that exchange, Quinn took aim at Thomas Hynes, the former Senate president and Cook County assessor who tried to unseat Washington.
“His father,” Quinn said, referring to the comptroller, “called Harold Washington ‘sleazy.’ And I think that was just plain wrong. I know what they are doing here, and I think the listeners know, too.”
But Hynes again justified the ad, saying voters need to hear Washington’s unfiltered voice describe Quinn and that Thomas Hynes isn’t on Tuesday’s ballot.
“I don’t think what my father did has anything to do with it,” Hynes said.